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Daily Archives: May 20, 2023

National Treasure Wins Preakness Stakes

National Treasure won the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on Saturday, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a record-breaking eighth win in the middle jewel of U.S. thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.

With John Velazquez aboard, National Treasure held off a late charge from Blazing Sevens. Kentucky Derby winner Mage finished third, meaning the chestnut colt will not have a shot at becoming U.S. thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner.

The win capped an emotional day for Baffert, whose colt Havnameltdown was euthanized on the track earlier on Saturday after going down with an injury during a race at Pimlico.

“Losing that horse today really hurt but I am happy for Johnny, he got the win,” Baffert said fighting back tears, referring to the jockey. “It’s been a very emotional day.”

For Baffert, one of the sport’s best-known figures, the Preakness marked his first Triple Crown race in two years due to a lengthy suspension after one of his horses, Medina Spirit, tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of the Kentucky Derby title in 2021.

'A Day of Joy'- Brittney Griner Makes WNBA Season Debut

Brittney Griner stood for the national anthem before her first regular-season WNBA game since being jailed in Russia.

Griner was outspoken for social justice in 2020 and didn’t take the court during the pregame anthem. But nearly a year behind bars in Russia changed her.

“I was literally in a cage and could not stand the way I wanted to,” she said. “Just being able to hear my national anthem and see my flag, I definitely want to stand.”

Griner had 18 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots Friday night for the Phoenix Mercury in a 94-71 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks.

“Not good enough, didn’t get the dub,” said Griner, who nevertheless couldn’t be down in defeat.

“I appreciate everything a little bit more, all of the small moments, like, ‘Oh, I’m so tired I don’t want to go to practice today,’ that has changed, honestly,” she said. “Tomorrow is not guaranteed, you don’t know what it’s going to look like. I feel a lot older somehow, too.”

The 32-year-old center’s immediate goal is to play an entire game by the All-Star break in mid-July. She played for 25 minutes Friday.

“I hope to be exactly where I want to be,” Griner said. “Just getting back to how I was before all this happened.”

Griner made an immediate impact against the Sparks. She fired a pass to Moriah Jefferson, who hit a 3-pointer for Phoenix’s first basket. Griner grabbed a couple of rebounds and scored twice to help the Mercury to an early lead.

“How good did she just look? Unbelievable,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters at halftime.

For the first time since last season, Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard opened her pregame comments without announcing how many days Griner had been jailed. Griner has been free since December when she was part of a high-profile prisoner swap.

“Until the day we got the news in the morning that she was on her way home, no one thought that it was going to happen,” Nygaard said. “We did our jobs probably with less joy than professional athletes do. It was heavy every day.”

Not anymore.

“Today is a day of joy,” Nygaard said. “An amazing, amazing thing has happened.”

Griner and the Mercury were greeted with a standing ovation when they came on court for pregame warmups, although the biggest cheers were reserved for the Sparks.

“Just taking it in but staying focused because at the end of the day I’m at work,” Griner said. “Can’t get caught up in the moment. Kind of feel it, but put it to the side and feel it a little bit later.”

Griner hugged U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and first gentleman Doug Emhoff as they left the court after Harris was presented with a No. 49 Sparks jersey. Earlier, Harris posed for photos in the Mercury’s locker room.

“It was nice to be able to see her face-to-face and thank her for everything,” Griner said.

She patted her heart and applauded in return during a brief video welcoming her back to the WNBA.

“It was nice to be back on the court for a real game,” she said. “The love from the fans when we came out was amazing. I definitely feel it.”

Griner scored 10 points in 17 minutes in an exhibition loss to the Sparks last week. It was her first game action since she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February 2022 after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.

“We brought back this Black, gay woman from a Russian jail and America did that because they valued her and she’s a female athlete and they valued her,” Nygaard said.

“Just to be part of a group that values people at that level, it makes me very proud to be an American. Maybe there’s other people that that doesn’t make them proud, but for me, I see BG and I see hope and I see the future and I have young children and it makes me really hopeful about our country,” the coach said.

Fans arriving early at Crypto.com Arena wore T-shirts with Griner’s name and jersey number on them. The 6-foot-9 Griner stopped to photo-bomb a group of young girls posing courtside before the game.

Billie Jean King and wife Ilana Kloss, who are part-owners of the Sparks, were on hand for the opener, as was Magic Johnson, Pau Gasol, Byron Scott, Robert Horry, Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham and South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley.

Since her release, Griner has used her platform to advocate for other Americans being detained abroad. She was already an LGBTQ+ activist since publicly coming out in 2013.

“She stands for so many people, so many different kinds of people who can be undervalued in our society,” Nygaard said. “She stands with pride and confidence and has never once, has shied away from who she is.”

Griner announced in April that she is working with Bring Our Families Home, a campaign formed last year by the family members of American hostages and wrongful detainees held overseas. She said her team has been in contact with the family of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being detained in Russia on espionage charges.

“She’s an amazing person on and off the court,” Phoenix teammate Jefferson said. “I think her energy just inspires everybody every single day to show up and be the best version of themselves.”

Suspect Says He Set Fire to Mosque to Protest Homelessness, Affidavit Says

A man charged with setting a fire at a Minnesota mosque told authorities he is Muslim and set the fire to protest homelessness, according to court records.

Said Murekezi, 42, is charged with second-degree arson, second-degree burglary of a religious building and fifth-degree drug possession in the fire Wednesday at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center in St. Paul.

The center was last used as a mosque in 2021 and was currently being used as office space.

The arson was one of at least six acts of vandalism or arson against mosques in Minnesota this year and prompted Muslim and government officials to call for the state’s residents to stand in unity with Muslims.

A probable cause statement said Murezeki was released from jail 36 hours before the fire. Court records show he has several past convictions, including one for arson at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul in 2020. He has also undergone several mental health evaluations.

Investigators said Murekezi was on probation for first-degree criminal damage to property and had previously broken windows at a Catholic church in Minneapolis this year and an Islamic community center in Minnetonka in 2021.

The probable cause statement said Murekezi, who had no listed home address, admitted that he broke into the mosque the day before the fire and slept there overnight.

He said he was upset that Muslims and Americans who are homeless were not being helped by the building or the government. He also told investigators that if he had not been caught he would have burned another mosque or church, according to the statement.

Court documents don’t list a current attorney for this case.

South Carolina Republicans Hear Pitches From 2024 Candidates, Reelect State Party Chairman

South Carolina Republicans on Saturday selected Drew McKissick as their chairman for a fourth term at a convention where some of the party’s 2024 presidential hopefuls made pitches to voters in the first-in-the-South primary state. 

McKissick has led the party since 2017 in a state where Republicans hold all statewide-elected positions, all but one U.S. House seat, and control of both legislative chambers. He defeated three challengers. Party officials said in a release that under McKissick’s leadership, “more Republicans than ever before” had won elections. 

Neither of South Carolina’s presidential contenders, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, attended the gathering in Lexington, a suburb of Columbia, the capital. 

Scott, who entered the race Friday, sent a video that was played for delegates, and a political action committee that backs him sponsored a breakfast for them. 

“The GOP, the great opportunity party, is in fact the dominant party in our great state, because of people just like you,” said Scott. He encouraged activists to come to his formal campaign launch event Monday in North Charleston so they could be “a part of South Carolina — and hopefully American — history.” 

If elected, Scott would be the first Black Republican president. 

Haley, a former governor who kicked off her campaign in February, did not appear in person or via video. She did get a mention from the rostrum when a McKissick rival noted that Haley had resigned as governor before the end of her second term to join the Trump administration as U.N. envoy. 

Several Republicans in race

The Republican Party’s 2024 field is expanding, with Scott, Haley, former President Donald Trump and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson already running. Another hopeful, entrepreneur and “anti-woke” activist Vivek Ramaswamy was the sole candidate to address the convention in person. 

In a video, Trump said that “now is the time to complete our mission and finish what we started” and “evict Joe Biden from the White House.” A video from Never Back Down, a super political action committee supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as he prepares to enter the race, showcased DeSantis’ background, including his military service and ongoing disputes with the Walt Disney Co., saying the governor has “refused to let Disney push us around.” 

This past week, Disney announced it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development. The decision followed a year of attacks from DeSantis and the Florida Legislature because the company opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Disney filed a First Amendment lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials last month. 

Top stop

Given its prominent status on the nomination calendar, South Carolina for months has drawn a number of Republican presidential contenders. 

Trump visited in January to roll out his South Carolina leadership team, which includes Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. DeSantis made his debut trip last month, drawing hundreds to two events. Former Vice President Mike Pence has come numerous times to a state where support from white evangelical Christians is critical. 

Trump’s support in the state has remained high since his South Carolina primary victory helped propel him to the 2016 nomination. But Tyler J. Corn, who heads up the Greater Spartanburg Young Republicans, said he’s somewhat dubious that those who say they support the former president will vote for him when it comes time to do so next year. 

“I think there’s a lot of people that realistically say they love Donald Trump who probably end up voting for Ron DeSantis, because I think a lot of [them] believe that he’s a proven winner, and the president, they’re a little bit more concerned about that,” Corn said on the sidelines of the convention. “I’ve even heard people say, ‘Well I love Donald Trump, I just don’t love the way he always says things.’ And I haven’t heard that complaint with Ron DeSantis yet.”